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The new brass on the block

by Wajahat S. Khan

The game is on. Not the brash politicking from Raiwind that promises to dismantle the Presidency. Not the unscrupulous ingenuity from the Presidency that has muzzled the MQM back into the fold. Not from the Supreme Court as it tries to throw its weight around in Karachi. And not from Kabul, or New Delhi either, where Hamid Karzai and Manmohan Singh have matured a strategic pact in half the time of a human pregnancy. No, those are all little games.

In Islamabad – correction, Rawalpindi – there is only one game in town. And it’s called the Promotion Game. Up for grabs are stars…preferably four, but three will work too. And if they’re made of brass, then the political alchemy for converting khaki cotton into the armour-plating of power becomes so much more easier.

Here’s the backgrounder: General Ashfaq Kayani is set to retire (for a second time) in November 2013. That’s when his office will be available for occupancy. But till that moment arrives, like any bureaucracy – and the army is Pakistan’s biggest, even most politicised one – the ‘grooming’ and placement of his subordinates is key for the operational efficacy as well as internal dynamism of the institution he commands.

Kayani’s latest move – the promotion of four major generals to the rank of lieutenant general – is a critical indicator of what lies next for Pakistan’s most powerful institution. Who’s going to be Spook-in-Chief (DG-ISI)? Or the guy who keeps all the brass connected (chief of General Staff)? Who’s going to be GHQ’s record-keeper (military secretary)? Or the man who will fight with (or talk to) the Taliban (commander XI Corps)? Which general shall keep the Americans out of Quetta while ensuring Baloch separatists are suppressed (commander XII Corps)? What about the chap who watches the nukes (commander Strategic Forces), or the one who keeps India busy across the LoC (commander X Corps) while keeping his ‘Coup Brigade’ (the ‘111’) oiled and ready? And let’s never, ever forget the next probable for the COAS title.

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